From Mundane to Extraordinary

I’ve learned a lot from traveling for the last five years. But the lessons I’ve learned haven’t been the exotic ones I expected, full of mystery and history.

When you grow up in a place, every other place in the world seems magical, full of amazing sights, ancient history, and of course unique plants and animals. Living next to mountains and fields, cats and coyotes just doesn’t hold a candle to seeing the Tower of London or feeding an elephant.

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Of course home has its benefits–it’s home, after all–but everywhere else in the world just seems so much more magical. Adventures seem more likely to happen when you’re in an unfamiliar place; strange languages, unknown roads, and new sights  lend a touch of the exotic to all you see.

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But really? All these foreign places and amazing sights–cobras,
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beaches,
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are homes to regular, ordinary people. People who have lives, and families, friends, and jobs. People who worry about money, or have lost a loved one, or have relationship struggles, or health problems. It’s easy to romanticize the unknown; much harder to realize that life is much the same no matter where you end up living it.

Flying back in to Colorado a month ago, seeing the mountains and the spreading plains again, all I could think of was how impressed Singaporeans, who only know a tiny, hot, tropical island, would be. Snow-covered mountains, vast plains, and a sky that meets the ground instead of a building. You never get sunrises like this, where you can see for miles, in Singapore.
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In fact, all you can see there is HDB buildings for miles.DSC_0824.jpg

I never used to think of where I grew up as anywhere someone would ever want to visit–unless they were into skiing. It was just home, and there was nothing extraordinary about it.

And then I moved away. Suddenly, with the clarity of distance, the familiar seemed a lot more desirable. It’s hard to live in a place where you don’t speak the language, the food in the grocery stores is all strange (fishballs and bean curd, anyone?), and even the trees and roads look different.

What’s familiar to you is strange and extraordinary to someone else. Maybe your life seems boring and pointless right now as you change diapers and make food all day every day and you’re longing to go travel the world, or perhaps you spend all your waking moments in school and doing homework and you want to go out and start real life, or maybe you really want to be married so you can be happy like all the married people you see.

But the grass isn’t always greener. Travel–especially being away from familiar things for a long time–is difficult and can be lonely. Starting real life–finding a job, paying bills, fixing things–is a lot more work than it sounds like when you’re in college. Being married is not an automatic recipe for happiness.

All of these can be good things, just like living in another country can be a good thing. But don’t expect them to give more zest to an otherwise bland life.

It’s not where you live that makes life extraordinary–it’s who you are.

 

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Incompetence as Comedy: or, American Airlines Flight 82 from Auckland

The travel industry has a bad reputation in general. It has this reputation because it deserves it. Take, for example, our recent attempt at leaving Auckland, New Zealand on a flight to Los Angeles (Flight number AA82).

You all know what it’s like to fly somewhere: wait in a line here, another line there, have your passport inspected, your face scrutinized, and if you’re lucky, you’re patted down and felt up and herded around like a bunch of sheep for a few hours before finally getting to the gate, where you’re left to sit on some of the most uncomfortable chairs you’ve ever seen. Oh, and you do all this while carrying a toddler and your bag that felt quite light the day before when you packed it, but now feels like it weighs about ten tons.

Well, we made it through all the indignities of airports without losing our dignity, and settled in to our uncomfortable seats with all our baggage strewn around us at about 1:30 pm, an hour before the plane was scheduled to board at 2:25 pm.

A portly British man wearing a bow tie (or papillon as he called it) and a large tag around his neck that loudly proclaimed “Press Pass” sat down across from us. He boasted some about his experience flying, the fact that he was flying business class, and that he’d been upgraded twice because of his press pass (the only reason he wore it as he was mainly retired).

“What language is he speaking?” he queried, pointing at JQ.

“Toddler,” I said.

Not sure where he lived all his life to never hear a toddler speaking, but he was certain he knew a lot about flying.

As the scheduled boarding time got closer, the boarding area started to fill up. People were doing exercises, taking naps, and generally preparing for a long intercontinental flight.

2:25 p.m. came and went, with no signs of boarding or of anything else happening other than the usual passenger paging over the intercom. Mr. Hoping-for-an-upgrade assured us that the airline was probably just waiting for a few important passengers or perhaps a large group, and that we would be sure to board soon.

Then, at 3:00, they finally made an announcement. “We regret to inform you that American Airlines Flight 82 has been delayed due to mechanical engineering difficulties. We will inform you of our progress in 45 minutes.” Everyone rolled their eyes; JQ demanded to be taken back to the vending machines to “Beep beep” them, and, of course, Mr. Hoping-for-an-upgrade pointed out the pilot and copilot in the cockpit. “You see,” he said, “if anything were seriously wrong with the airplane, the pilot wouldn’t be on board playing cards!”

Alas, Mr. Hoping-for-an-upgrade was wrong. Fifteen minutes later, American Airlines sent emails and text messages to all the passengers, alerting them that the flight was canceled. Of course, the people at the desk made no announcement until thirty minutes after that, just to keep everyone in suspense. Or perhaps they didn’t even know themselves!

Then the announcement came: “We regret to inform you that American Airlines flight 82 to Los Angeles has been canceled due to mechanical difficulties. Your baggage will be found at bag claim five. Please go to the arrivals area and pick up your bags, then go American Airlines check-in at departure area D to rebook a flight and be given a lodging voucher. Also, make sure to return any duty-free items you may have purchased.”

And that was it. That was all the instructions we were given for what to do now that we had no flight to go on.

So we all got up, picked up all our luggage, and began the arduous journey back through the terminal, trying to figure out how to get to arrivals from the departure area (spoiler alert: you can’t). Groups of twenty or thirty people stood around looking confused, while one man wandered around asking everyone in sight, “Do you know how to get to customs?”

After trudging nearly halfway back, we spotted an airport help desk, who pointed back where we came from and said, “Oh, arrivals is just down the stairs over that way.” Back we trudged—only to find all the stairs we knew about only went up! After a lot more back and forth, we learned that actually, passengers from the canceled flight needed to go back to their gate so they could be funneled into arrivals. So we went back yet again.

By now, it was nearly 4:30 and all we had accomplished with our lives in this time was standing in queues and walking through hallways. Surely humans were meant for greater things than this?

After some more queueing and more walking through hallways and through the arrivals area (which we saw when we first actually arrived in Auckland), we arrived at passport control. To add to the pointlessness of this entire endeavor, we had to fill out an arrivals form, to give them very important information about what it’s like to sit at the gate in their airport for a few hours. “Where are you arriving from?” the form questioned. “Have you been hiking anywhere?” “Do you have any fruits?” “How long are you planning to stay in New Zealand?” “What is your address here?” All these questions in their varying iterations put JQ right to sleep.

Untitled After passport control, where they carefully examined our faces to make sure they still matched our passports, it was off to more walking through hallways and standing in queues (now with a sleeping baby in arms) to pick up our baggage. On the bright side, we all finally found bag claim 5. And our baggage was actually on it, which seemed to be the one feat that American Airlines could pull off. The customs officer questioned us closely again: “Did you buy any fruit while you were in the departure terminal?” Apparently the departure terminal of the Auckland airport is no longer New Zealand and the fruit there will contaminate ALL THE CROPS and they will all DIE! Or maybe he just had to ask—because when we replied in the negative, he let us just walk through and not put our baggage through the x-ray machines (which would entail—you guessed it!—more standing in queues).

After all that, it was 5:00, and we finally made it to check-in counter D for American Airlines—with about four hundred other people, all in the same position we were in. More queueing entailed, and Jared used the last 16% of battery on his phone to call the number on the little ticket they gave us. So we got a flight rebooked for the next evening, which would get us to Oregon a hair’s breadth before a very important person’s wedding.

Now just remained the knotty little problem of where we would stay. If our phones had worked (mine had no data, and Jared’s no battery), we might have just sucked up the cost and called the Airbnb we had stayed at the whole week. As it was, we stayed in the queue to try to find some lodging for the night. We waited…and waited…and waited…and then JQ, who had napped about thirty minutes and was starting to get hungry, started screaming, “Mommy, go out! Mommy, I go out!” It was a lightbulb moment for the staff, who hurriedly came and escorted us up front. “Oh, you have a child! Come wait up here and we’ll be with you in just a minute.” Everyone around us looked a little jealous, and a couple people jokingly called out, “Wait, I’m his sister! I’m the auntie!” Moral of the story: definitely try to travel with a two-year-old if possible.

But! The story’s still not over. We were given the name of our hotel—which was in Hamilton, two hours away from Auckland (the hotels in Auckland were all completely booked)—and told to go out door two, where a bus would be waiting for us. So we went and waited with the bus. The bus driver had a bad back and was a little out of shape, so Jared helped him load everyone’s luggage. And then we waited some more while I fed JQ all the snacks I had packed for the airplane. We waited an hour—the bus driver said he was waiting for confirmation—but in the end his bus was full, and he decided to just go. It was a lovely little drive through New Zealand’s farmland: the sun glinted off of rivers and mountains, green fields with cows pastorally grazing, and Maori cemeteries. Untitled

When we got to Hamilton (New Zealand’s fourth largest city, apparently), a new comedy of errors began. The forty people on the bus were in about eight different hotels, all in different parts of town. The bus driver wasn’t quite sure where all of them were and kept stopping to look them up on his map.

When we finally got to our hotel—called the Quest—we were dropped off with about 8 other people, including a little old lady and gentleman (in their seventies, or so) who had three or four large suitcases. It was well after 8:00 p.m. at this time, and there was a sign on the door of the hotel saying that hotel reception closed at 7 p.m. Somehow someone opened the door and everyone crowded into the small reception area, where there were four envelopes waiting with the names of those who had reservations. Two of the envelopes had correct names and room sizes on them, but one of them had been booked and was a single room for a French couple, and the other was for a name that nobody in our group had. So out of 8 people, there were rooms for four (as two of the rooms were single rooms). We tried calling the hotel management, but they were just as confused as everyone else—except they did mention that more rooms had been booked at their branch two blocks away—Quest on Ward. So eventually Jared made the executive decision that the couple in their 70s should just take the room that was under someone else’s name, and we and the French couple set off for the next hotel—walking, of course, as our bus had long since departed.

When we got to Quest on Ward, of course their reception was also closed and the door locked. We tried their intercom to get someone to open the door for us. The first time we called, a lady answered who said she couldn’t hear at all; eventually she hung up. Then someone else answered and said the same thing: “Your connection is terrible!” After about seven tries, we gave up on the intercom and called the number given. Just as we were finally getting someone to understand what we needed, a hotel resident came by and let us in. Once in, we discovered only one room had been reserved—and with us and the French couple, we needed two. So Jared called up the manager and asked what was going on, and he said he would be by shortly. In the end—apparently the manager had his own idea of “short”—the French couple wandered off and were never heard from again!

So—six hours after we learned our flight was canceled, we finally made it to a room and were able to rest. In the morning, the manager said that American Airlines hadn’t told him how many people were coming and had just sent random people an hour and a half away without booking them any rooms. There were still other, minor problems once we were in possession of our room, like our food allowance only being usable if we charged it to the hotel, ate at a select list of restaurants, and subtracted the 10% commission the hotel wanted, even though American Airlines staff insisted the hotel wasn’t entitled to any commission!

Was it all inevitable? After all, American Airlines didn’t know their plane would encounter a mechanical error, and surely it’s better to have a day of delay and queuing than to swim with the “baby sharks” (as JQ calls them) in the big blue Pacific? Jared, who happens to have helped edit a book on emergency response (which you could read, but it’s rather boring) says absolutely not. The basic planks of emergency management, he says, are prevent, prepare, respond, and recover. The first, obviously, is about stopping something bad from happening; the second is about planning what to do when something bad happens; the third is about enacting your plan and improvising when something happens; and the fourth is about restoring capacity and rebuilding systems even better after a disaster. American Airlines, we surmise, had invested almost everything in prevention—fixing the plane, which was rumored to have been on the ground since earlier that morning—and ignored preparation (which, this being one of the weeks of Chinese Spring Festival, was extra important). The result was a botched response, with the agents even unclear about how we were supposed to get to baggage claim, and the comedy of incompetence thereafter. One would think that a major international airline would have some sort of system in place for communicating with passengers and service providers like hotels, but apparently Auckland Airport’s American Airlines didn’t think it was worth their while. The problem, it seemed to us, was not simply that the person in charge didn’t know what they were doing, but that there was nobody in charge!

Resilience means being prepared for disasters, which are statistically inevitable: bad things, no matter what, will eventually happen. And when they do, laughing is always a healthier response to yelling or crying. If you make the wedding, that is—or maybe even if you don’t!

The Ease of Being You

He listens to the music with a blissful look on his face, arms going “round and round,” feet dancing in circles. He’s just a two-year-old in a diaper, but for the self-assurance he displays, he could be the president ( I dare you to catch the president dancing around in a diaper to “The Wheels on the Bus”!).

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Yes, he knows how to take a selfie already. #momfail

I learn something new from JQ every day. His insistence on doing things by himself even when he’s only going to fail (do, Mommy), his patience when he has to repeat himself five times and we still don’t understand what he’s saying, the ease with which he greets people, and the quickness with which he comforts a crying baby. Basically, he’s the person I always wanted to be but wasn’t.

To someone who’s been afraid of everybody her whole life, always second-guessing everything I do and say (and feeling awkward regardless), this utter lack of self-consciousness is mostly only something I dream of having. I’m pretty sure I was terrified of people even when I was two.

This kid, though? I’m pretty sure he escaped the awkward-introvert-who-can’t-think-of-small-talk gene.  He makes friends wherever he goes–with old ladies on the bus, kids on the playground, and anyone who will smile at him on the train. Sure, he doesn’t like creepy old men who stop and pinch his cheeks or try to get him to come with them (just, why?), but then, who does?

Someone once said to me that they thought Christians could only be extroverts–that people who are quieter or find it difficult to talk to people should change their behavior to always be outgoing and friendly, ready to talk to anyone at any time. I’ve thought about this comment a lot over the years: do I need to change who I am (I’ve tried, and so has my mother), and even the way I look at the world? Was I created wrong? Ungodly?

And as I’ve thought about this, the more I think it’s wrong. Yes, it’s decidedly more socially acceptable to be the friendly chatterbox who loves being around people ALL THE TIME. But socially acceptable doesn’t mean it’s the way things have to be. It doesn’t mean that my gifts don’t matter. It doesn’t mean that every Christian has to be your neighborhood joy-exuding person who never met a stranger. If everyone was a chatterbox, who would shut up and listen to them?

As I’ve grown older, I’ve stopped worrying so much about what I have or don’t have and wishing I was different. Now, I focus on what I can do and do it the best I can. Turns out I can talk just fine as long as I know what I’m talking about (though I still don’t like small talk and just sit there in awkward silence most of the time).

So what I’ve learned from JQ? Live life with exuberance and joy, not always wishing for something you don’t have or to be someone you aren’t. I’m not any less of a person because I hate going up to someone just to say hi. And if you’re the neighborhood joy-exuding person? Hooray! The world needs you too.

A Lonely Merry Christmas

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Lonely baby


It turns out Facebook is not a good substitute for face to face interaction. Who knew?

It’s bad enough on the usual days of the year: people post pictures of their cool adventures with friends and family (guilty!), all the fun things their kids do, and maybe occasionally the five dishes in their sink that they need to do (“I’m such a bad housekeeper!). But on Christmas Day, of all times, it’s even more apparent. Everyone posts pictures of their lights, their trees, their snow, their families: everyone has a place to go for Christmas.

Except us. We’re just here, preparing to move out of our house in twelve days. Instead of getting presents, we’re purging. Instead of celebrating with family or friends, we’re all alone. Yes, unlike the Virgin Mary who had no refuge but a stable for the birth of her Son, we have a solid house and cozy beds (and air-conditioning). Also unlike the Virgin Mary, we have no visitors to bring gifts and celebrate with us that Christ is born.

In previous years, Christmas has been a season of finding light in the darkness. This year, for us it has a different focus. Just as Jesus was born in an unfamiliar manger in a strange town, we’re in a strange country surrounded by strangers. There’s much to be said about the comforts of home–but surely there’s a point in wandering, too?

For years after Christ’s birth, Mary and Joseph wandered, seeking refuge from an unstable king who wished to kill their Son. For years, Christmas brought to them not warm fuzzies and cozy feelings about how great humanity is, but running–for the good of the world.

Today, instead of singing saccharine songs about the “most wonderful time of the year” mixed in with odes to winter and expecting everyone to be wonderful and happy because Christmas, we’re singing “Wayfaring Stranger” and living it too. In this way, we are like the holy family: we are recognizing there is more to life–more to Christmas–than thinking about ourselves or all the good things it can bring out in people.

Christmas brings a message of hope, of peace on earth and goodwill to men. It brings assurance that these things exist, that they are possible. But it also reminds us they are, for now, not realized yet. First there’s the waiting, then the running and hiding, then–finally–the heaven that Christmas promises to bring.

Christmas is not heaven. But it will be. All our waitings and wanderings will, one day, bring us home. And then we won’t be wayfaring strangers.

Coming Home

It’s that time of year again: we’re moving soon. But this time we won’t be going to any exotic or far-away place. Instead, we’ll be moving back home to Colorado (just for a year, of course: how could we stay somewhere longer than a year?!).

After Singapore, Colorado almost seems exotic. Snow? And mountains? And seasons? And no HDB buildings as far as the eye can see?
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Today it feels like as soon as we begin to settle in to a place, our routines become more comfortable, and we move out of survival mode into oh-yeah-I-can-actually-do-things mode, we move. And while this is one move I’m glad to make (sorry, Singapore, I don’t love you), it’s still tearing up roots and going through a big adjustment yet again. For the sixth time in almost five years. And that sounds crazy. No wonder I’ve been mainly hiding in my house for the last several months.

And after months of mainly staying home and venturing out to the playground, I’ll have to learn how to interact with people again beyond the inanities of small talk. (“How do you like Singapore?” Answer: smile and nod, say “It’s…very hot.” If I’m in a generous mood, I may go so far as to say, “We enjoy swimming here,” or “It’s great to be able to get inexpensive fresh juice whenever you want it.” Seriously, how are you supposed to answer a question like that?)

But do I even know how to be a friend any more? Am I still an intelligent human being even though I’ve been dragged all over the world for the past few years, and now am poked and prodded to death every time I try to have a thought? (I’m hiding away while JQ takes a bubble bath–hiding, because he started fishing hairs out of somewhere from the bathtub and showing them to me, and then because he started painting me with bubbles. Let’s just say–not conducive to Deep Thoughts!)

I guess my worry is: I’ve changed so much. Have I grown away from being home? Or has “home” grown in the other direction so that neither of us will recognize the other?

Will I be that friend that regales others only with stories of eating fishballs and other delicacies? Or will I have no life outside of how wonderful (or obnoxious) my kid is? Will people even remember who I am since I’ve been gone for so long?

Silly worries aside, there are so many things to anticipate, like being close to family and friends (free babysitters for JQ!), good American food (dairy products! cheese! meat! no fishballs!), and seasons (cold weather! snow! wind! spring and fall!). Jared is looking forward to the library of books he has already ordered from Amazon–only thirty or forty books, he says nonchalantly– that is awaiting him in Colorado. I’m excited about introducing JQ to farm life with all its ways to keep small boys busy.

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So look out America: we’re coming for you!

JQ Is TWO!

Well, that went fast.
DSC_1242.jpg Two years ago, we were just getting to know a brand-new baby boy who didn’t do much else besides eat and sleep.

Now, he’s somehow morphed into this huge toddler who runs around, eats like a horse, and is starting to talk non-stop. We’ve been trying to teach him both English and Chinese (hah!) but didn’t really think he spent enough time around Chinese speakers to actually learn Chinese too. Except he’s been running around the house recently pointing at things and saying a word that doesn’t really sound like any English word. It took us a while to figure out what he was saying, but finally we decided he’s saying “zhege” (pronounced jei-ge, but which he says more like “ticka” or something), which means “this.” I guess maybe spending time with a bilingual Singaporean family is paying off? At least he can now say “I zhege” for everything he wants. Yeah, we’re raising a fabulous communicator.

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But, we can now figure out what he wants when he takes us to the food museum (a.k.a. the refrigerator) and points at something and says “I zhege.” Usually he wants one of his favorite foods–something like cheese, cheese fries, feta cheese, cheese sauce, macaroni and cheese, and did I mention cheese? If he doesn’t want one of the above, he’s usually asking for some kalamata olives or a drink. Lest you think he’s developing nutrient deficiencies on his cheese diet, he will eat other foods, like fruits and vegetables, and he always insists on getting bananas when we go to the grocery store. Unfortunately, he never eats said bananas so they always gather a crowd of fruit flies in about a day and then sit on the counter in a puddle of tears because they’re mourning about how hot it is. At least, that’s the only explanation I can come up with for why bananas die in a puddle of their own liquid two days after coming home from the grocery store. But I digress.

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Speaking of food, I have now watched enough food videos on Facebook with him for him to be convinced that all videos on Facebook are of delicious things. Usually, his assumption is correct, like when he watches a video of brownies or chicken fingers. But yesterday, his “Yum yum!” was a bit misplaced when a video of painting pumpkins came up. At least he’s not a picky eater?

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To counteract the bad effects of watching too many Facebook videos, JQ cooks with me too. He’s the key supervisor of making scrambled eggs in the morning, though he still has a bad habit of bursting into tears every time I put the eggs in the pan to cook, saying “I ‘tir, mommy, I ‘tir.”

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On the other side of his regular two-year-old boyness is the neat freak. If he spills something or gets food on his hands, he immediately says “uh-oh, mommy, uh-oh!” and runs to get a towel to clean it up.

Along with his cleaning powers is a built-in sense of empathy: whenever anyone is hurt or sad he’ll give them a big hug and then run to the bathroom to get tissues for their nose.

He has several stuffed animals (Frog, Puppy, Bear, Giraffe), and when he’s feeling extra sentimental about them, he runs into our bedroom and sets them on top of my pillow, where they’re not allowed to be moved.

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Happy birthday JQ! We’re so happy you’re part of our life (and can clean up all our messes).

September: A Month in the Life

I’m not quite sure where September went, actually, but apparently it will be October in a couple of days! In spite of missing all of September though, nothing much has happened, other than:

  1. I was a bit overconfident and am now teaching TWO online English classes to high schoolers in America. This means I have around forty students now. This also means I have to grade around forty assignments every week, while simultaneously trying to talk to the toddler. DSC_1100.jpgI used to think I could multitask, but now I’m not so sure! Of course, some things do get in the way of staring at the computer screen trying to think of some constructive comments that don’t sound EXACTLY like all the other comments I’ve written that day, like….
  2. taking JQ out to the playground every morning so we can get some moving time in (it’s so easy when you’re in the house to sit all.the.time even if you’re an active little two-year-old, and especially easy to just stare at screens while sitting). So we try to go outside most days except when it’s pouring rain, because I just don’t want to deal with the little drowned rat that would result from playing outside in a downpour.
  3. Speaking of rain, when we DO go outside in the rain, JQ is very insistent about taking along the umbrella (which he can’t say but thinks he can, so it comes out something like “brella,” but not exactly that intelligible.)  But he’s very proud of himself for being able to carry it while we walk.
  4. Usually Singaporeans are polite and nice to us (if a bit insistent on staying out of puddles and always wearing shoes), so yesterday at the playground when I noticed a random guy (he looked to be around 30) hanging out by the playground I didn’t think much of it. He was staring at his phone so I figured he was maybe checking his email or whatever–until he came up and starting asking random questions. They started off innocently enough: “How old is he?” “Where are you from?” but when he went from asking questions about JQ’s naptime and whether he eats food to asking how often he breastfeeds during the day, my weirdo alert went off. It didn’t help that he was following me around and kinda getting in my personal space. Anyways, JQ and I made a less-than-graceful exit of the screaming-toddler-who-doesn’t-want-to-leave variety, and now I definitely scan the playground for creepy weirdos before even venturing out of the house!
  5.  Bubbles! JQ has just discovered the magic that is bubbles. He runs around with his little bubble wand shouting “Bubble, bubble! Mama, bubble!” DSC_0925.jpgDSC_0909.jpgBubbles are also an automatic attraction for all the other kids at the playground. I guess the moral of the story is, everyone loves bubbles. Even as I’m writing this, he’s sitting here looking at his pictures, saying “Bubbles!”
  6. Some days (most days), living life with a toddler feels like living on top of a mountain of unfinished projects. I start grading papers, then two minutes later have to get JQ a drink. Sit back down, and he wants me to read him a story. At the end of an hour, I’ll have spent lots of time with JQ, but not much time with my grading!
  7. To counteract this never-ending-job-list effect, I’ve been trying to at least wash the dishes every day and keep the house picked up so SOMETHING is getting done. I’m proud of myself too! And we’re even managing to get laundry done fairly regularly (a MUST because it gets so stinky so fast in this humidity that soon we have nothing to wear). And with that I’ll leave you with an ugly picture of me doing laundry next to a sink full of dishes. Because everyone cares about my housework.

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Happy Birthday to Me

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On birthdays there should be Big Thoughts. You should of course ruminate on how old (or not) you feel, how much more mature (or not) you could be, how you’ve failed in your aspirations for the last x amount of years, how you’ve completed your aspirations in the last amount of years, what you hope to accomplish in your next however many years. (I’m afraid my Dickens is showing–forgive me!)  But on my most recent birthday, I accomplished few Big Thoughts.

I did, however, manage to make a cake in our new (much larger! so nice!) toaster oven that is actually big enough to bake something in without the top burning long before anything else is even warm.
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And while it almost melted in the Singapore heat in spite of being stored in the freezer whenever it was not being built, it tasted great. Although anything with four layers of homemade lemon curd covered in lemon cream cheese frosting would probably taste great anyways.

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Did I ever imagine that when I was 25 my main accomplishments would consist of making a cake for my birthday and not getting mad at the baby (and doing dishes, of course–one can always do more dishes)? I don’t really know. I’m not one of those people (like Jared) who was born ambitious. When I was ten I had a breakdown when I had to write an assignment about what I wanted to be when I grew up, because I had no ambitions to be anything! (I finally settled on teacher as the least bad option…and now I’m a teacher. So maybe 10-year-old me knew something after all?)

What I’d like to think is that one doesn’t have to accomplish great things for life to matter. I try to comfort Jared with this platitude when he’s feeling especially down after only reading one million books instead of stopping wars or advising world leaders; somehow he doesn’t particularly appreciate it.

But I think of it this way–if everyone was busy doing great things, who would have time to stop and comfort the baby, or to make a lemon cake for all to enjoy, or to teach English to small children? Who would be involved in the business of helping the little ones become great?

We need great men and women. But we also need the homely sorts, the ones who contribute the less obvious comforts, like lemon cake. So even though I’ve accomplished little to speak of in my life these past twenty-six years, I think I may have contributed some good to the world in spite of myself.

 

 

 

Why I’m Glad I Don’t Have a Dryer

I just realized today that I’ve never told you  about our laundry situation in all the various countries we’ve lived in. Have you ever been missing out!

For the past three years, we haven’t had a dryer. And for the most part it’s been ok. It was a little hard in London when we only had a teeny tiny flat and it took clothes two days to dry because cold and damp weather is not the greatest for laundry drying (and also a significant reason we didn’t cloth diaper exclusively!), but really, in a family this size, it’s pretty easy to go without a dryer. Of course, when I was growing up we hung laundry on the line and I felt like it took all day. Probably because with 12 people in a house, there’s always more laundry to hang. But here, I actually kind of like it. Here’s why.

    1. I’m lazy and if I had a dryer clothes would sit in it for days and then they’re all wrinkly and gross. So much better to just get it over with all at once.
    2. It eliminates the step of putting your clothes in the dryer, taking them out, and then folding them. I do exactly none of those steps.
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Don’t your towels have feet?
  • When you hang up your clothes as soon as the washing machine is done, all you have to do when they’re actually dry is move the hangers to your closet. That’s it. No extra hanging, no folding, no wrinkly messes that sit in the dryer for a week.DSC_0474
    • Even matching socks is easier. Of course, that could be because only one person in this house currently wears socks. The rest of us (me, and by extension JQ) can’t stand having sweaty feet on top of (underneath?) sweaty everything else and so we either go barefoot or put on sandals when the looks of disapproval and the questions become too much. But still–no dryer to eat your socks? It’s a win.
    • If you can dry your clothes outside, they will smell like you’ve dried them outside, which, in my opinion, is a nice smell for clothes to have. I’ve never been able to stand the reek of fabric softener and fake smells. If, on the other hand, you live in a small flat in London and only have a bathroom to dry them in….well, they will probably smell like mildew and you’ll go around wondering who’s bringing that weird smell with them. Don’t worry–it’s just you.

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    • It keeps you on top of your laundry. There’s nothing quick about hanging your clothes to dry, so if you know you’re almost out of clean towels or shirts or socks, you have to do laundry that very minute so it can be dry in 24 hours when you actually need it. I start getting complacent when I have a dryer around, because it only takes 4 hours or so for the clothes to be ready to wear again. But it’s really a lot better for my sanity (and Jared’s) to get the clothes washed a day or two in advance of when I REALLY need them so that we actually have clean laundry.
    • On the other hand, it’s kind of annoying, when you only have one blanket for your bed, to have to wash it first thing in the morning so it can be MOSTLY dry by the evening. I suppose I could overcome my cheapskate tendencies and, you know, actually buy another blanket, but SPENDING MONEY ON NONESSENTIAL ITEMS (i.e. not food)!

    And that’s why, in spite of having lived without a dryer for the better part of the last three years, I’m actually kind of happy that I have. Sure, a dryer is awfully convenient, but it’s better for me as a person to actually plan and act on things I know I have to do. Sometimes convenience can be sneaky and look like a friend, but often it’s actually the enemy.

Head on over to This Ain’t the Lyceum to see more posts!

JQ: 17 Months

So this little man is already 17 months old, and I can’t believe how fast the time is going.

I’ve been kind of hesitant to write a post about him, since I can’t imagine that very many people (with the exception of his relatives, who do probably make up a good 50% of my readership) are that interested in knowing that yet another baby is doing cute things with the portion of his time that isn’t spent doing annoying things.

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Now forgive me, since I might be biased, but a lot of the things he does are awfully cute. He definitely doesn’t suffer from a lack of self-esteem either–anytime he does anything “remarkable,” like pushing a button and turning something on, he claps for himself with a self-satisfied smile.

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He loves figuring out how things work, and especially loves taking things apart. One of his favorite pastimes is taking eggshells out of the trashcan and crumbling them up on the floor. I figure if we just call it a Montessori activity, we can ignore the fact that the eggshells were in the trashcan and assume that he’s wiring some good things into his brain. Besides, when he’s done crushing them up, he goes and gets the broom and dustpan and sweeps them up again (which is also so cute that you can pardon the fact that when he tries to empty it out the contents go all over the floor again). Yeah, he didn’t get that clean streak from me. Must be some long-dormant gene coming out or something.

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Our daily walk outside to the playgrounds in our complex pretty much makes his day, as he can chase birds and watch them flutter away, find the random cats that haunt the place and are taken care of by the old ladies, and climb all over and hang from the playground equipment. So far the swings are his favorite.

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Unfortunately, he’s turning into a bit of a daredevil. Tap-dancing on the table is almost a daily occurrence, as is climbing onto things and then hanging dangerously over the edge or riding the back of the couch. I think he just likes hearing me gasp when he’s put himself in a particularly dangerous situation because that always evokes lots of giggles.

And oh yes, did I mention he’s a tease? If anything is kept from him for any reason, like phones or the remotes for the AC, he plots ways to get his hands on them and then giggle madly when we realize what he has. He usually even waves it around in the air to make sure we notice.
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One his most maddening tendencies is sitting down on the sidewalk whenever you try to get him to go somewhere he doesn’t want to go. There are few things more annoying than walking along when suddenly your companion decides he has to nearly pull his arm out of his socket and sit down RIGHT THERE because you didn’t let him push the elevator button and he really really WANTS to push the elevator button. These standoffs usually culminate with me asserting my dominance and carrying him the rest of the way kicking and screaming. I’ll leave it up to your imagination who’s doing (most) of the screaming.

In spite of his more annoying traits, he’s also beginning to show a more affectionate side and loves giving kisses and hugs, usually followed by a headbut or three that nearly break your nose. Then he’ll hand you his favorite blanket and make sure it’s bunched up just right before settling down to sleep.

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I’m sure there’s a lot more cute things he does like babbling nonsense “sentences,” bleating “Maamaa?” every time he wants anything I want to get anything done, and getting upset when we don’t stick to his routine, but I’ll spare you so you don’t think he’s Wonderbaby. For that, you can wait for the Christmas letter in three years when I’m sure he’ll have won a prize in an essay competition, created his own line of specialty toys, and developed a new way to rip books apart without his daddy getting mad at him. And of course he’ll have already read Thucydides and the complete works of Charles Dickens. Who do you think we’re raising anyway?